Minnesota Youth "ACE" Intervention Program

Article excerpt

EMERGING PRACTICE

Quasi-experimental study, a correlational or ex post facto study, posttest only, single group pre- and posttest, comparison group.*

All Children Excel

According to research in England, New Zealand, and the United States, most chronic juvenile offending can be attributed to just a few youth. Many of these young people show signs of trouble before they reach puberty.

Alarmed at the growing number of children under age 10 committing delinquent acts, the Ramsey County (St. Paul), Minnesota, Board of Commissioners developed the All Children Excel (ACE) program in 1998. The program is bolstered by cost-effective, researched strategies that target children under 12 predicted to become chronic serious delinquent offenders.

In St. Paul, some 702 children under age 10 had police reports for delinquent acts between 1995 and 1998. The combined effort of county government, schools, police, parents, health and social services agencies, and community volunteers, ACE was designed to reduce risk factors in the lives of identified children and build resiliency in them, their families, and their communities.

Rigorous Selection, Personal Intervention

Children are accepted into the ACE program through a rigorous referral and acceptance process. The school or police department sends the child's police report to the Ramsey County Attorney's office. This process provides the program with the legal authority to bring a Child in Need of Protection or Services (CHIPS) petition if the parents fail to cooperate.

Although a last resort, this is a very important option the county can bring to bear on resistant families. Programs without this leverage, such as voluntary services, usually aren't successful with these children.

A thorough background check is performed on the child's family, examining where the family has lived, for how long, and how often they have moved; involvement in the criminal justice system; and use of county and community services. A multidisciplinary screening team of seven people-including a mental health professional, a corrections representative, a social worker, and others-reviews the police report to further assess the child's risk for serious, violent delinquency.

After the child is accepted into the program, ACE sends community agency social workers to visit the family and create a strength-based action plan that involves the entire family. With support from a six-person county multidisciplinary team, including a senior protection worker, a public health representative, the county attorney, and others, ACE community workers focus on the needs of the child-in such areas as school attendance, academic skills, and impulse control-and the family, helping parents obtain counseling, parenting skills training, substance abuse treatment, job training, employment opportunities, and housing.

Praising their ACE worker, one family said, "We know we can call you about anything. We like that you meet with us face to face-the close contact. You are there for us like a real person. You are not like other workers, you really know our family, and we really know you. We trust you. We know that you really support us. This program is helping our family a lot, especially our son."

Assessing Risk, Evaluating Outcomes

An important contribution to ACE's success was the development of a risk assessment tool that would immediately show risk levels for children referred to the program. The tool needed to be short, easy to use, and able to accommodate missing data. ACE officials developed a Risk Factor Profile that takes about 15 minutes to complete on a computer. Scores estimate a child's overall risk for chronic and serious juvenile delinquency.

The Risk Factor Profde examines the child's referring offense, behavior history, risk factors, and temperament, as well as parent, sibling, peer, and community risk factors. Scores range from O (no risk) to 7 (extreme risk for offending). …